At the end of “Parshat Shemot” we find a confrontation between Moses and Aaron on the one hand and the officers of the children of Israel on the other. On the one side stood Moses and Aaron who had been assigned by Hashem to carry out a seemingly suicidal mission: to enter uninvited into the house of the king, of the imperial, menacing kingdom of Egypt, and to request that he let the Jewish slaves go free. In spite of the odds, Moses and Aaron, with faith in Hashem, went and fulfilled their mission completely. (According to our sages, all the elders that accompanied them dropped out along the way because of tremendous fear, until Moses and Aaron alone remained to face Pharaoh). And certainly Pharaoh rejected their request out of hand. The problem was, not only did he reject their request, but also in order to quell the “undesirable” excitement and expectation amidst the Jews, he informed them that their work conditions would become more severe. Not only would they have to keep up the stringent quota of bricks they were now required to produce, but also they themselves would have to gather the straw needed to make the bricks!
The Character of the (Jewish) Officers
Now there enters into the picture the “Officers of the Children of Israel.” From the verses (in Shemot) and from the commentary of our sages, we know that these were not essentially bad men; in the last analysis they only wanted to lighten the burden of the Jews. Even more than this, they were prepared to carry the load for the sake of their brethren, the point being not to hand over those who were unable to fulfill their quotas, into the hands of the taskmasters. And for this reason, “The officers were beaten”!! (Shemot 5:14) In fact, the officers were themselves sort of communal leaders who apparently represented the Jews before the Egyptian ruler. As practical men who recognized the nature of the playing field, they played the game, they did not believe either in “making noise” or in revolutions. They were a kind of “workers committee” that wanted to lighten, a bit, the harsh conditions, hoping for some improvement. In their eyes, any noise, any demonstration, any meeting with Pharaoh that was not carried out according to the rules of protocol, would be destructive and damaging to the delicate work of many years.
Like a Bull in a China Shop
For this reason, the moment they heard about Moses and Aaron and their results, they became very angry. They opposed them with fervor: You are novices!! You are adventurers!! ” May Hashem look upon you and judge, for you have brought us into foul odor in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of his servants, to place a sword into their hands to kill us!!” (Shemot, 5:21)
Among other things, there is here a confrontation here between the old guard leadership of the ‘status quo’ who wish to protect their achievements – which although modest, were achieved through hard labor – and New Men, who through their ‘exaggerated’ requests not only accomplish nothing, but also even cause the destruction of earlier achievements. In the eyes of the officers, Moses behaves like a bull in a china shop.
And truthfully, reality proves that the officers were correct. Seemingly, just after Moses and Aaron leave Pharaoh’s presence a harsh decree is put upon the nation. And who suffers for this? Moses and Aaron? No, of course not! The officers are the ones who suffer. They are the ones who receive the beatings for the sake of the people who cannot fulfill the impossible quotas. And all because of the irresponsibility of Moses and Aaron.
The position of the officers seemed so correct, that even Moses himself thought that perhaps they were correct. He had so little confidence in his own opinion that he sinned by showing a lack of faith in Hashem, by crying to Him, “Why is evil happening to this people, why did You send me?!”
There is no smooth rebellion
And with all this…the officers were not right! The reason (and also the lesson from this) is that there is almost never a revolution or change where the first stages do not involve a loss of accomplishment! Sometimes this is essential, for the ‘accomplishments’ of the past are parenthetical; the arrangements of small-minded people, while they are perhaps intended to put out fires, yet they establish a dismal situation, in themselves preventing any change. And sometimes, even in the case of true accomplishments, we must know that in order to bring change, there is no choice but lose real accomplishments, at least temporarily. Because there will always be one Pharaoh or another who will threaten that if we don’t sit quietly he will nullify our achievements, “and you will lose out because of this.” But if we give in to his threats, we will remain captives in the hand of Pharaoh, we, our children and our children’s children…until the end of the generations.
Redemption – or slavery under improved conditions
In conclusion, whoever wants to progress – and this is true in every area – must take into account, that he will almost certainly find himself, at least temporarily, losing some ground. Whoever is not prepared for this will find himself, all his life, remaining in the straits of Egypt. Whoever wants change needs to warmly thank the ‘existing officers’ for their accomplishments, but say to them: now we are going further, we are going to progress. It is possible that a part of your accomplishments, or some of your accomplishments will be lost, either temporarily or permanently. But this is the price to pay for reaching the greater and ultimate goal. We were not born in order to be slaves with improved conditions in Egypt; we were born to be redeemed. We were not born to live in villas in settlements surrounded by fences, like ghettos, with conditions of “Development Area A”: we were born to conquer and rule all of the land of Israel, free of the goyim and of our enemies. And if the price, more or less temporarily, is the loss of status of “Development Area A,” due to lack of participation on the part of the existing regime, or the necessity of gathering our own straw to make bricks for a while, the price is worth it. For we were not born to live with the status quo, after the fact. We were born to establish an ideal world, as it was at the beginning.